Do Pyschedelics Improve Athletic Performance?
Do Pyschedelics Improve Athletic Performance?JULY 2023
Thanks to a slew of recent clinical trials, we now know that psychedelics are hugely effective in the treatment of anxiety and depression, PSTD, eating disorders, alcoholism, and various other traumas and addictions. Science has also confirmed that microdosing LSD or psilocybin has the potential to greatly improve cognitive function, significantly increase explicit and implicit emotional empathy, and generally make you a happier person and a better thinker.
But what those nerds in the lab coats haven’t bothered to look into is this: do psychedelics improve athletic performance? We took it upon ourselves to reach out to POSSESSED readers and ask this very question, and the response was a resounding ‘Yep.’ But then sometimes not really.
LOCATION: Melbourne, Australia
In early 2020, during the second covid lockdown, I started looking for things to do with my time. I had some acid tabs in my freezer that were left over from a festival, so I began occasionally starting my days with small amounts to break the monotony. I wouldn't take enough to trip, but it was probably a tiny bit more than would be considered ‘micro.’ Prior to this, I’d never done exercise or spared much thought for my fitness, but the media cycle at the time had me thinking a lot more about my health, and since everyone suddenly became a runner in lockdown, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and attempt a positive change. I thought mixing an activity that I perceived as boring and uncomfortable (exercise) with an activity that was novel and fun (tripping) might make me more inclined to do it.
At first, I felt like a crazy person, heading out for a run in public on acid, but then I put my sunglasses on and my headphones in so I would look unapproachable and not have to explain to anyone on a Tuesday morning that the reason I seem weird was because I was on acid. Anyway, while running, I began to start to zoom in and pay attention to the sensations with a level of detail that I hadn't before. Previously when attempting a run, I would give up as soon as I started gasping for air or got bored. Now, thanks to the acid, I decided to lean into it and see where it led.
The more I did that, the more I realized that every sensation and process in the body was like a chain of cause and effect that, if I followed to its source, would lead me to something that I could consciously control in the moment, such as muscle movement, breathing, posture, pace, etc. Thinking about running that way reframed it in my mind as having nuance similar to a craft that I could practice and improve on instead of being an unpleasant physical ordeal.
After a while, as I became more conditioned, the high intensity that I initially hated about running became the thing that I craved. I feel like acid played a role in cementing my running routine by reframing the experience. Three years later and I still run almost every day (not on acid).
ACTIVITY: Trail Running
I discovered mushrooms improved (or maybe augmented is a better word) athletic performance kind of by accident. I started microdosing during the pandemic because, like a lot of people, I was feeling anxious and depressed.
My best friend recommended I try microdosing because it had worked really well for him when he was having some mental health struggles. So, I started microdosing and, after about a week, began to notice my mood shifting. I had a lot more clarity, less head noise, and my attitude and outlook improved exponentially. Around the tenth day, I head out for a run. I normally clock up, on average, around 40 to 45 miles per week. I’ve been running since 2013. Anyway, so I head out for a run on day ten on one of my favorite trails near New River, AZ. It’s ten miles of silence and beauty. I parked at the trailhead and set off for what I thought would be a typical long run for me.
Within minutes, though, I realized that I was completely, one hundred percent in tune with my body, my breathing, and everything around me. It’s difficult to describe. I wasn’t tripping (the microdose I was taking was pretty much imperceptible), but it was like I was running for the first time in my life. I was completely engaged with what was happening. The trail is slightly technical, and usually there’d be places where I’d have to slow down and really concentrate on where I was putting my feet down, but I was flying, gliding along. My body was cooperating with my mind, and my mind was in concert with nature.
It sounds so corny, but I felt like I was one with the universe. It was the best run of my life. I’ve had equally amazing runs since, thanks to mushrooms, but that first one was basically religious.
LOCATION: Venice Beach, CA
When I was 18, I experienced ego-death during a psilocybin trip, and it changed my life (for the better) forever. After that, I had no need or interest in exploring psychedelics. Then in 2021, after a trip to Hawaii where I microdosed in the forest, I decided I would start microdosing psilocybin in tiny, tiny quantities at random times of the day. I tried using it before work and felt SO incredibly focused all day. I tried it before hosting a big skate event, and it made me feel way less anxious having to speak to so many folks. Then I tried it before skating, and it made everything fall away. I noticed things just felt more relaxed in all areas of my life. I would say, as a side note, that I only take it every two weeks or so because when I take it too many days in a row, I’d get adverse effects, meaning anxiety would double rather than divide or subside.
LOCATION: Bern, CH
ACTIVITY: Muay Thai Boxing
SUBSTANCE: Psilocybin and LSD
A little context before I begin: I have cystic fibrosis, so when it comes to sports and physical activities, my breathing is fairly compromised. My goal is to find the most effective and non-strenuous technique in most things I do. When I started Muay Thai, my breathing was shit. I was too angry, and completely clueless about fighting. I had the anger to fight, but that’s it.
At the time, I was living in San Diego and going to a gym in El Cajon (not the palm trees and sunsets that you would typically picture with SoCal). My coach had been a successful fighter in Thailand, so he taught nothing but keeping it basic and focusing on proper technique. The way he put it was, ‘It’s hot as fuck in Thailand; if you don’t have good technique, you’ll cook yourself.’ I took that to heart since I was just trying to survive. I still tell a lot of beginners today how important it is to stay calm and focus on technique.
Anyway, my decision to try shrooms and fight. What I’ve noticed is the most effective way to spar/fight is by being patient and watching for the right shots—not being some aggro gym bro, but actually watching body language and noticing repeating patterns. Doing a relatively small amount of shrooms (little more than micro) helped me with everything I just mentioned. It helped me focus on my lungs and my breathing, it helped me stay happy and loose while not overthinking whatever dumb shit I was trying. I would notice patterns and mistakes in what my teammates were doing.
What was unexpected, though, was how I wasn’t as nervous about getting hit. Maybe it sounds weird, but if I get popped—I actually smile. Something about those sessions helped me break past a barrier I had set for myself with my health, my inexperience, and my other bullshit excuses for why I couldn’t fight. The couple of times doing shrooms and training really got me past those roadblocks.
OCCUPATION: Creative & Stylist
LOCATION: Venice, CA
SUBSTANCE: Marijuana, Psilocybin
I’ll give you a good trip and a bad one.
Bad: I lived in Portland, Oregon during the pandemic, and ran all the time to stay sane. I wanted to go on a run in the amazing Forest Park and decided to take 25-30mg of an edible and smoked a joint because it was springtime, and my goal was to just zone out on all the amazing plants and flowers. I should mention here that my biggest fear in the world is invertebrates. Seriously. I can’t explain why, but you need to know that I’m like crippled with fear if I see a worm. I LOVE all animals. I’m cool with snakes, too, but just not invertebrates.
So, I start off feeling AWESOME. I was in the zone, seeing the deep beautiful greens of the plants and watching the light reflecting off the dew on the leaves. I felt like Snow White bouncing along until I nearly slipped to my death on a passing banana slug. Banana slugs are HUGE. They look like sliding pieces of shit. Literally. So, that fucked me up. I was so scared that every branch became a slug, too, and I couldn’t stop looking up, down, and all around, thinking they were about to touch me. I was out at mile two of what was supposed to be a six miler... I ran so fast on the next mile, though. It was the first time I clocked under 6:30 min. I must have looked crazy. It’s a fairly busy park. I was just high as fuck and petrified and picking my knees up hella high like Jack Sparrow and dodging shadows running. Never ran in there again after the rain.
Good: I once took mushrooms and dedicated a few hours to doing yoga. I was into my third chaturanga, and I remember taking the biggest breath I think I’ve ever taken in my life. I remember rolling over my toes and feeling the inhale tingling down the back of my feet and then feeling it chiropractically stretch my entire spinal cord up to the top of my skull. I could feel every one of my hair follicles fill with this breath. I don’t know what the science behind this is, but I do know it allows the focus to push your lungs wider than ever, and once you start breathing like that, there’s no going back. I call these types of breath ‘capillary busters’.
Since then, I supplement almost all workouts with a little ‘sprinkle’.
OCCUPATION: Farm Hand
LOCATION: New York
I microdosed psilocybin for three months but for reasons unrelated to athletics. I did, however, notice a change in how it affected my running, most notably how quickly I seemed to drop into a flow state. Sometimes it can take around five miles before I get into the relaxed, steady pace of a run, but more often than not, especially on the days I dosed (once every three days), I was very quickly comfy and at ease in my pace and cadence at around two to three miles. There was also a sort of floating, lighter body sensation as well. I don’t think it affected my athletic performance in any way, but it definitely seemed to bring about a greater sense of spaciousness as I ran.
OCCUPATION: Not for Profit Director/Artist
LOCATION: Perth, WA
I used to run a lot, but after discovering some broken bits in my ankle during an ultra-trail race in Margaret River, I was forced to develop a love of cycling. I quickly found that I preferred riding a long way, and preferably in shit conditions to make it interesting. On Christmas Eve 2022, I committed to riding 500km with a guy I’d never met before. He’d planned the route and stops, which was nice as I was essentially going to rock up and follow him. Also, I decided that before meeting the mystery long-ride man, I was going to dabble in some shrooms.
I didn’t have a stupid amount. I didn’t want to see a dragon and veer in front of a truck. But I had enough that a dragon wasn’t completely out of the question. 2.5/3 grams (eyeballed it) in a shake five minutes before we left. I’m not shroom naïve, I wouldn’t say. I’ve ridden the wave enough times to know how not to drown. But this was a really fucking wild ride.
The first half hour was spent (in the dark—we set off in the wee hours) thinking about the next six hours. About an hour in, the shrooms began taking effect, and I knew it was best that I grip the bars, keep my eyes up, and make sure I didn’t take too many turns on the front. What followed the initial hour of anticipation and the taking hold phase was six hours of bliss. The sky was a miraculous blue, the trees smiled in that not-actually-smiling-but-you-can-tell-they’re-happy way, and everything I consumed tasted amazing (exclusively bananas and Powerade).
On these long rides, I settle into a pace, and it’s usually 20+ hours of pedalling close to the highest level I can maintain for that period of time. On this ride, I forgot my legs existed. I forgot I was riding at times. But I guess muscle memory took hold and kept me on the (relatively) straight and narrow. It felt nice to be smiling on the bike and riding fast. I never felt in danger or that I was putting anyone else in danger. I began to come down at around the 300km mark—nine hours in—and I enjoyed the remaining hours of cycling with my new friend.
OCCUPATION: Dadaist Sommelier
The most fun you can ever have on shrooms is snorkelling. I grew up in Florida and spent a lot of time in the water. My dad was a charter captain, so we were constantly on the boat, fishing, snorkelling, spearfishing, lobster diving, you name it.
One time we were lobster diving in an area that was around 16 feet deep and buzzing with sea life: schools of beautiful tropical fish, multicolored anemones, coral, barracuda, and the occasional sea turtle, just beautiful. With my bag of lobsters in hand, I swam down to investigate a rock that was about 14 feet below, but when I went to head back to the surface for air, I looked up and saw a massive bull shark cruising a few feet above my head. Naturally, it was swimming in the same direction I wanted to go: toward the boat. In that moment of panic and fear, I became weirdly calm because I was high on psilocybin. My first thought was, ‘I can actually hold my breath forever. I am a fish. I have no need to go to the surface. I might even have gills now.’
Thanks to shrooms, I was able to tap into some core part of my being and seemingly have zero need for air. I let the 9-foot monster mosey its way toward the boat while I remained still, latched to the top of the rock like a goddamn barnacle. Eventually, it moved on and was able to reach the surface.
I’ve had many more encounters with sharks over the years, all peaceful, but that one was the most chill, and I think I owe it all to the mushrooms. It’s very possible I would’ve panicked had I not been on mushrooms, and sucked in water through my snorkel, felt my heart leap out of my chest, and potentially drowned and/or lost a limb.
LOCATION: New Jersey
SUBSTANCE: A gray market psilocybin chocolate bar from a more legal state
Myself and a few buddies did an overnight 45-mile run through the woods of South Jersey to prepare for a race we had coming up. Two of us took a solid dose of a chocolate bar that my friend had brought back from a state where mushrooms are in a legal gray area. I’d say we took four to six pieces each.
For me, mushrooms form that universal connection, and I felt my body truly running as one with nature. The ground and my feet seemed to meet in unison in a way they don’t always on trail. Roots and toes seemed to kiss instead of quarrel. At points, I remember saying, ‘I don’t know who is moving my feet,’ and that thought felt more freeing than frightening. Giggles were prominent. I’m already a smiley runner, but mushrooms help cement a smile on my face and subdue the pain—and on a long run like this, that’s valuable.